Vernon city councillors showed interest in building out a new recreation facility in full at the Kin Race Track site and go to referendum to borrow up to $90 million during the regular meeting May 25, 2020. (City of Vernon)

Vernon race track site referendum likely to fail

LETTER: ‘I predict ‘sticker shock’ will probably kill it’

I have read with interest the recent joint statement from the mayor of Coldstream and electoral area B and C directors Fleming and Shatzko on Vernon’s proposed Active Living Centre or indoor pool.

A number of years ago, the elected representatives from these same jurisdictions worked well together to successfully build the Vernon and District Performing Arts Center and the Kal Tire arena. These are two popular and well-supported amenities where capital (construction) and operating costs were and still are shared by taxpayers in the Greater Vernon area.

Now we learn the proposed recreation centre (indoor pool) to be developed on the old Kin Race Track site will proceed as an initiative of the City of Vernon alone with a current cost estimate in excess of $112 million. This very high cost, combined with prevailing economic uncertainties and the lack of a phased plan of development, have caused Coldstream and the two electoral directors to call for more details from the City of Vernon.

Why would Coldstream and B and C directors commit themselves and their taxpayers to this scheme? Who can blame them for not participating? Vernon council plans to proceed on its own with the new centre, with so many details not being shared so far with Vernon taxpayers. I am one of those taxpayers.

The chance of a $112+ million referendum being approved by the voters in Vernon in October is very slim at best. Given the record of success for senior government grants for large projects in this region, I remain even more skeptical.

This project, now with a cost of $28 million reduced from the original $40 million, has been stalled for almost four years. In part this is because of Vernon’s stubborn refusal to donate the cost of the land the new centre will occupy to the overall cost of the project. At the risk of offending some local elected officials whom I know and respect, I would suggest this impasse could be resolved by gifting the land in recognition of the obvious long-term economic benefits for renewal of Vernon’s downtown business district.

With civic elections in October of this year and so much uncertainty hanging over the two largest capital projects in Greater Vernon, I remain optimistic there can be a meeting of the minds on both projects.

The Greater Vernon taxpayers could benefit from another attempt to make both projects feasible. The cultural centre could be helped along with a land donation from Vernon, and city staff and consultants should bring forward a phased approach to Kin Race Track development. Surely there is an opportunity for a first phase of development for a new pool with a price tag much less than $112 million. Taxpayers may have become immune to the vast amounts of COVID-related money tossed about by senior governments in the past two years.

But I predict ‘sticker shock’ will probably kill a referendum in excess of $112 million in the City of Vernon this coming October.

Rod Drennan

READ MORE: Is this the time for cultural and active living centre?

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